Units have been in demand among many buyers of late. Increased cost of living and tighter rental conditions – along with rising rental returns – have seen buyer numbers swell for attached housing.
For homebuyers – especially those wishing to escape the rental market – they are a more affordable option than houses for getting into desirable suburbs. For investors they are an entry-price asset that’s currently experiencing low vacancies and rising rents.
When buying a unit, it’s important to accurately assess its market value before making an offer. So, here’s some of the key elements of comparison when it comes to determining a price for an apartment, townhouse or unit.
The premise here is that land appreciates, while buildings depreciate.
If you own a unit in a complex of 6 and the complex is sitting on an 800m2 block of land, you are better off from a potential growth perspective then owning a unit in a complex of 50 on a 1,600m2 block of land.
On the smaller block, you effectively own 133m2 of land (6 units divided by 800m2), whereas in the larger complex, your land component is only 32m2 (50 units divided by 1600m2).
Taking this a little further, let’s say you are in a six-unit complex on an 800 square metre site, and the value of that site is $1.6 million. Now imagine a vacant 800 square metres site in the same suburb is worth around $1 million dollars. That would indicate the building component value of each unit on that site is $100,000 i.e.:
- $1.6 million (total) – $1 million (land value) = $600,000 (improvements value)
- $600,000 ÷ 6 units = $100,000 per unit.
$100,000 sounds like a pretty good deal for that sort of structure. Now, if a vacant 800 square metres site is worth even more than that, buying a unit in that complex becomes even more attractive. Why? Because land appreciates in value. If it makes up most of the property’s value, it will continue to increase in worth over time.
A higher proportion of land is desirable for this reason, but it is also attractive as a redevelopment prospect in the future. As such developers looking to tackle a project may well pay a premium to secure the site.
This is applicable to investor buyers. Gross yield on a real estate investment is the rental return you receive per year divided by the assets value (or purchase price) expressed as a percentage.
So, a $500,000 unit that rents for $480 per week reflects a rental yield of:
- $480 per week x 52 weeks = $24,960 per year
- $24,960 ÷ $500,000 = 0.04992, which equates to gross yield of 4.99%
As an investor, you will weigh up your yield against the potential for capital gains when considering your purchase price. You will also compare a unit’s yield to alternate investment options.
The other thing to consider is the costs associate with holding that investment unit. You’ll have body corporate fees, maintenance, property management and so on to pay for each year. These costs can be higher in an older complex needing more maintenance, or in a large complex with comprehensive common facilities like a pool, lift and gymnasium.
When assessing the value of a unit in a larger complex comprising multiple apartments, you need to look at recent sales of other units within that complex to help determine value. Once you have some reasonable comparisons, it’s time consider the characteristics of each sale that are superior, inferior or similar to your unit.
These characteristics will include floor size, enclosed space vs. open areas (e.g., balconies), car accommodation, outlook/view/orientation, layout, fit out, position in the complex and so on. There are multiple facets that can have buyers paying either more or less for one unit as opposed to another within the same building or project.
We sometimes look at these comparisons on a rate per square metre of floor area, but again, nuances come into play.
While you can use comparable unit sales in other complexes within a suburb, they do tend to be less similar in characteristics than a sale within your subject complex.
Within a unit complex there will be some broader elements you need to consider too.
A big one is body corporate fees. Are they higher than in other unit blocks you’ve seen? Why is that? Are there more common facilities that need to be maintained perhaps?
You might also enquire about the competence of the complex manager. A poor manager can bring a heap of trouble to the unit owners through unmaintained improvements, missed payments or lack of responsiveness. Ask some of the other owners and residents as to how they feel about their onsite manager.
Then there are things like the impact of floods. Several of our most desirable locations copped inundation during recent Brisbane flood events. What we’ve discovered is that some buildings are better designed to cope with intermittent flooding than others. For example, they’ll place their power plant at the top of the building instead of in the carpark. The impact of flooding, and the building’s coping mechanisms, should be factored into your considerations.
Another element is whether the unit you’re looking at has some exclusive feature that makes it more desirable than other units in the block. For example, ground-floor units may include a large courtyard that adds tens of thousands in value. Another may come with two additional car spaces, or an exclusive storage area.
A proper look at the body corporate statement, survey plan and title will help in identifying these unique benefits.
This touches on just some of the complexities around comparing and contrasting units when assessing value and determining your asking price. Far and away the best path to ascribing value to a unit is to draw on the expertise of a property professional such as a buyers’ agent with experience in your area of interest.